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Before Leicester’s 2-1 win at Bramall Lane on Sunday, Ayoze Perez had enjoyed just 355 minutes of football throughout the season.
Even with the Foxes’ additional Europa League commitments, he has been a forgotten man this season, with Dennis Praet, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes establishing themselves ahead of him in the pecking order.
However, with Leicester without a win in four games, Brendan Rodgers gave Pérez his first Premier League start against Sheffield United. He soon began to make up for lost time, looking at home in his team’s 3-4-2-1 formation.
Operating in the media spaces alongside Maddison, he directed the show creatively, walking between the lines with and without the ball. When he was out of possession, he also pushed effectively, hunting down the Blades defense alongside Jamie Vardy.
Within ten minutes, he should have gotten his first assist of the season. Sliding a delicate ball through a running Vardy, last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner was only able to deliver an incredibly powerful shot to the post.
Pérez continued to wreak havoc in the early stages, clearly determined to prove something to his coach. His tenacity paid off in the 24th minute, when he volleyed the rebound from Marc Albrighton’s blocked shot to put his team deservedly ahead.
He almost made a decisive impact on another goal before the break, sliding Maddison down like he had Vardy from the start, only for his shot that also shot off the post.
By the time the halftime whistle came, Perez had logged more shots, shots, chances created and fouls won than any other player on the court. In other words, it was the complete performance and an aggressive reminder of exactly what he is capable of.
He continued to look lively before being dragged in with 20 minutes to go, perhaps with Thursday’s game against AEK Athens in mind.
Its display added fuel to the argument that it is better to deploy it in the center, rather than wide. Although Leicester’s best spell under Rodgers, the first half of last season, came when he was deployed on the right wing, Perez has always maintained that he feels more at home in offensive midfield.
Even when playing wide last season, he couldn’t help but drift into his favorite midfields, often leaving the Foxes’ midfield somewhat congested when Rodgers put them at 4-1-4-1. Perez’s ability to affect the game in these areas is a huge advantage.
He and Maddison, who created the Vardy winner, had excellent chemistry against the Blades and more performances like this should see them emerge when Rodgers began attacking midfielders during the holiday period.